My Teacher: Yung-ko Chou

My Teacher: Yung-ko Chou

In an age where anyone who takes a couple of weekend workshops can call him or herself a “Master”, Professor Chou was the real deal. He never referred to himself, nor encouraged his students to refer to him, as “master”.  Over the years, my personal experience has led me to believe that a teacher who deeply desires to be called “Master” probably isn’t one. Chou was a master by virtue of his actions, lack of hubris, and the scope of his embodiment of Taoist art forms.

Professor Chou came to the United States from Taiwan in the 1970’s. In his 60’s at the time, Professor Chou, with his nimble intellect, was able to learn to speak and write American English, and deal with the not insignificant culture shock of his adopted country. Professor Chou was in his sixties and seventies when I studied with him, but due to his abundant Chi his physical appearance was more like someone in his forties. He had dark hair, an attentive mind, and was remarkably flexible, equanimous, and quick witted. He walked every where he needed to go since he did not have or need a U.S. driver’s license. Professor Chou was a exceedingly quiet and unassuming man with an almost dry sort of wit and a sense of cosmic humor. If you were drawn into this inner circle, he would often gently and subtly tease you while also promoting your commitment and discipline to the art form.

For the first semester or so of my study with him, he spoke little English, and what he did speak was heavily accented at that. His students were forced by this predicament to rely on copying and imitating his movements, posture, and breathing patterns.  His didactic, limited to simple directions, was not understandable to my ear (due to his thick accent), thus we were forced by circumstance to be present, centered, and attentive in a somatic and spiritual mode. The verbal explanation modality was not really accessible to us in any practical way. I think this was an excellent way to learn: shut off the speech centers and their concomitant cerebricity and just be attentive, focused, and present.  If you couldn’t do that, then you probably weren’t going to be able to learn the forms.

Professor Chou taught the T’ai Chi Chuan Yang style long form, Push Hands, applications for self defense, the Song of the Free Hands Fighting, the Eight Treasures Qigong (known in those days as “The Ancient Exercises of China”) and Ba Gua (Pa Kua). Very few of his students elected to pony up the discipline to learn and embody the gift of all of these arts.

His approach to cultivating student motivation and discipline was simple and threefold:

— Set an invariable schedule of forms to teach weekly: three forms each class
— Encourage students to practice twice a day: he repeated this in every class
— Allow students to take as many classes as they wanted to each week

So he had a set schedule for teaching the forms and encouraged self-responsibility in his students by reminding them to practice morning and evening, and offered the opportunity to attend multiple classes at no additional charge.  I believe that Professor Chou realized that only the most committed students would take advantage of and follow this structure.

He had a remarkable gift for teaching his students, who were at many disparate levels of awareness and spiritual awakening, in an individual and personal manner. He could tell what your level of awareness was, and seemed to slightly adjust his teaching to support one’s unconscious level of spiritual desire. He was able to teach a roomful of students who had very different desires, intentions, and skill sets simultaneously. Some students were there to learn “Chinese exercise”. Some were focused solely on the martial art aspect. Some were merely curious, with no firm intention or commitment to learn the form. A few were gifted with the opportunity to learn all of these aspects and Self-Mastery too. He subtly supported his students’ desires on multiple levels at the same time, with humor and boundless patience.

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I felt privileged to study with this Master at a time when the height of learning technology was the electric typewriter and the Xerox machine. There were no videos, widgets, YouTube, phone apps, or other near useless electronic diversions to distract one from the opportunity to be physically in the presence of one who had deeply mastered the art, and who cared deeply about transmitting it to whomever could receive it.  Electronic technology will never be able to duplicate being in the presence of a Master. Not a day goes by that I do not feel gratitude for the great good fortune to have had the time and opportunity to study with this remarkable Sifu.  © 2009 Keith E. Hall and Inner-tranquility.com.

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